Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s – Fining

The fun really never ends, does it? Or does it never start?

This time we’re revisiting fining. Another topic that gets Jeffery all hot under the collar. Especially over-enthusiastic fining.

Most breweries prefer to send their beers out already fined, although a few brewers still consider that better and more regular results can be obtained if the beers are fined down about 24 hours after delivery into the cellar. Both beer and finings will then have become acclimatized to the temperature of the cellar. First, however, let it be stated that no attempt should be made to fine down beers which show any degree of fermentation. Not only will such a procedure mean useless loss of finings, but it will probably intensify the trouble. If the beer is reasonably quiet, it will be necessary first to remove some of the contents of the cask and make room for the finings. With part of this surplus, thoroughly mix the required quantity of finings (usually one pint per barrel of 36 gallons for running mild beers, and one and a half pints for pale ale) before adding to the cask. If it is then possible, give the cask a good rolling. This process is particularly necessary with dry hopped pale ales, as the hops will assist the action of the finings. If rolling is impossible for want of room, then the contents of the cask must be well roused right from the bottom. It is hopeless and useless to add to beer finings which have not been well mixed with a proportion of beer before adding. In their heavy and undiluted state they will immediately drop to the bottom without fulfilling their purpose. Should it be necessary at any time to re-fine beer, it can often be achieved by adding diluted finings to the extent of half a pint per barrel, and rousing in at the top of the cask only. If this procedure is found to be ineffective, the only remedy is to add the additional finings and roll the cask completely over again several times.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 256 - 257.

I wonder why Bitter required more finings than Mild? Especially if the dry hops it contained helped the process. If you fined in the brewery, there’d be no real need to roll the casks specifically around. That would happen automatically during the delivery process.

Do any breweries let their beer be fined in the pub today? I doubt it. Let’s check to see what Briggs recommends:

"Settling controls yeast count but to aid this process, finings are used (Chapter 15). Isinglass finings are added at the rate of 1 to 4 pints/imp. brl (0.36±1.44 l/hl). These finings can be added in the racking tank or at any point up to when the beer is dispensed. The usual point of addition is at rack with perhaps a prior addition in the racking tank. In any event the beer will require from 12-48 h and possibly up to 72 h to fine and settle before it is sold. The fining of cask beer is one of the most difficult of all brewery operations to control consistently. Often brewers experience periods of poor fining which are difficult to explain. Isinglass finings bear a positive charge because of the rich collagen content and interact with the negative charge on the yeast cell wall. In most circumstances this interaction is sufficient to achieve effective clarity.”
"Brewing Science and Practice" by Dennis E. Briggs, Chris A. Boulton, Peter A. Brookes and Roger Stevens, 2000, page 807.

Sounds like Briggs prefers fining in the racking back or to the barrel at filling time. Though he does admit that fining could take place later. Intriguing that he recommends significantly more finings, up to four pints per imperial barrel, as opposed to Jeffery’s one to one and a half pints.

Isinglass finings alone aren’t always enough:

“Some beers, sometimes will not fine with isinglass alone. The yeast may have a too low negative charge or the concentration may be too high (say >2 million cells/ml), or there may be too high a concentration of positively charged colloids in the beer. In this situation auxiliary finings derived from alginates, carrageenan or silicic acid, and having a negative charge, can be added to the beer before isinglass finings to precipitate the positively charged colloids (Vickers and Ballard, 1974). An effective method is often to add the auxiliary finings in the racking tank and separate the flocs thus formed in this vessel and then to add the isinglass at the rack of the beer. Priming sugars are also added to some beers at this stage. These are normally solutions at 1150º Sacch (37º) and are added at rates of 1 to 5 pints/barrel (0.35±1.75 l/hl). The priming sugar provides a small quantity of fermentable carbohydrate (often sucrose) to assist the yeast to achieve effective secondary fermentation in the cask."
"Brewing Science and Practice" by Dennis E. Briggs, Chris A. Boulton, Peter A. Brookes and Roger Stevens, 2000, pages 807 - 808.

Sounds to me as if something isn’t right in the brewing process if isinglass won’t work by itself. Most of the sludge should be gone before the beer hits the racking tank.

I thought I’d leave in the bit about primings. Those rates seem to tally with the practice at Barclay Perkins.

Just in case you weren’t listening the first time, Jeffery repeats his warnings about fining fermenting beer and using too many finings:

“We must once again impress upon our readers a rule which should always be observed. Never add finings to a cask of beer which shows the slightest degree of fermentation. Such a procedure is a waste of finings.

Before leaving the subject of fining, we should also like to stress the fallacy of using more finings than are really needed. Any excess deprives the beer both of character and condition.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 257.

Have you got that yet? Don’t fine fermenting beer and don’t fine too much.

Secondary fermentation next. But I bet you’re really waiting for ullage. Lovely word that, ullage.


Gary Gillman said...

Very useful and pertinent, as always.

Having consumed cask-condtioned beer in North America for 30 years, I can safely opine these detailed nostrums were only rarely followed particularly in the earlier part of that period. I always felt this was because it was assumed, wrongly, that the mantra of "unfiltered" required sending the beer in dull condition to the glass. In effect this was a kind of keller beer, which is fine as far as it goes but often the taste was over-dominated by yeast, IMO.

In the last few years though, as a result of a better international understanding of cask ale, some places do ensure a clear pint (not necessarily brilliant nor does it need to be) and I am sure you have encountered some good pints on your travels here, Ron.

In terms of current English commercial practice, it would be interesting to investigate the situation. One may find there are a variety of practices. Possibly the ones advised by the manual are still followed by some regional/family brewers and by the newer crop of breweries making beer in the traditional English way. In other cases, I believe the beer is centrifuged and reseeded with not-too-much yeast, which permits dispense of a generally clear pint. In yet other cases, the beer is left as is and either comes out cloudy sometimes - I encountered such beers on my last visit to the U.K. - or the brewery and publican work in a way to ensure it drops bright or mostly on its tod.


Fifey said...

Gary, I think a big reason for US brewers to leave cask ales unfined is a compromise between the beer not being filtered and it still being vegan-friendly. There'd be a lot of non-vegans weirded out by ANIMAL PRODUCTS USED on the pump clip too if the brewery went down the full disclosure route.

I believe PVPP needs to be filtered out, that doesn't leave many options for cask finings, forgive me if I'm missing something.